SINGAPORE – Rising Covid-19 infections and deaths test Singapore’s long-term strategy to treat coronavirus as endemic.
Around 82% of the city-state’s population was fully vaccinated, data from the Ministry of Health showed. However, a surge in Covid cases – the vast majority of which have no or mild symptoms – prompted the government to tighten social distancing measures starting this week.
Many of these cases were discovered because Singapore is “doing a lot of surveillance for Covid” through testing, said Ashley St. John, associate professor at Duke-NUS Medical School. But the country may have to change its methods to live with the virus, she added.
“Other things we do, like social distancing, can be useful for a period of time to control those spikes in cases,” St. John told CNBC’s Street Signs Asia on Friday.
“But we really need to start changing the way we think: from a containment and elimination strategy for Covid to living with the virus in our community, but what kinds of actions can we take to achieve this? less severe to those exposed, “she said.
Health system under pressure
The Singapore Ministry of Health announced Thursday that more than 28,000 Covid infections have been detected in the past 28 days. Of these, 98.1% had no or mild symptoms, while 0.1% died, the ministry said.
A total of 1,360 cases were in hospitals by Thursday noon, the ministry said. Of these, 204 are serious illnesses that require oxygen supplementation, and 34 are in intensive care.
On a cumulative basis, the Southeast Asian country has reported more than 96,500 Covid cases and 95 deaths, according to data from the Ministry of Health.
When announcing the recent tightening of the Covid measures, the Ministry of Health said last week that the rapid increase in infections had “burdened” the health system. It added that many infected people with mild symptoms sought medical attention in hospitals, although it may not be required.
The Singapore government has started allowing those infected with mild symptoms to recover at home if – among other things – they are fully vaccinated. It acknowledged that home recovery protocols are new and can be improved.
In recent months, the government has relaxed and tightened the Covid measures several times as the highly contagious Delta variant is spreading in the country.
According to the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, this has made the government appear “hesitant” to turn away from a “zero covid” strategy. The SDP has no elected member in parliament.
“The government is theoretically moving away … from the zero-covid strategy, but the measures are a bit hesitant,” Paul Tambyah, chairman of the SDP and an infectious disease specialist, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Friday. .
The party has proposed a plan to exit the pandemic, including stopping testing of asymptomatically vaccinated people outside of contact tracing and removing “widespread closures and restrictions”.
The plan is designed to ensure that health care resources are focused on people at risk who suffer from serious illnesses and prevent deaths, said Tambyah, who is also president of the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection.
“Right now, one of the concerns is that many asymptomatic people are being tested, many blanket closings are being made, and this is redirecting resources that ideally should be focused on the sick,” he said.